Saturday Lessons: October 31

Voters will be voters.

Florida and Texas had big weekends while Alabama had the week off. Thus, Florida and Texas wind up ahead of Alabama in the rankings. Cocknfire took the voters to task here, but honestly I can't get worked up about it. Florida, Texas, and Alabama are all 1A, 1B, and 1C in the polls. There's a gaping chasm between Bama and whoever is No. 4 in your poll of choice, so what does it matter? The task is clear: win out, and you won't have anything to complain about.

If Alabama was behind Texas and Iowa, that would be news because poll inertia could keep them out of the title game. No such danger exists now.

If you want a laugh though, take a look at the Harris Poll. Boise State at 4 with a first place vote? Iowa has two first place votes but is all the way down at 7? It's a poll made up of semi-random participants who may or may not actually watch  any games at all. This is what you get with that winning combination.

Florida found some of its old second half magic.

One of the hallmarks of last year's national champion was its ability to pull away in the second half of games and make the final score look better than what it probably should have been. This year's Florida squad finally figured out how to do that against a very giving Georgia team. This game would have been closer for much longer if not for all the Bulldog turnovers and penalties, but UF hasn't exactly been able to capitalize on those against anyone else. So that's a positive sign.

What's not a positive sign is the fact that Georgia was able to move the ball with relative ease for a lot of the game. Some bad throws from Joe Cox simply bailed out the Florida defense a couple of times. That doesn't bode well for the projected match up with Alabama in Atlanta. What Washaun Ealey took for seven yards, Mark Ingram will take for 20. What A.J. Green could get on simple 15 yard patterns, Julio Jones surely could as well. The final score felt good for the Gators, but there is still a lot of work to do.

Georgia just can't put it all together.

My wife remarked to me during the first half of the game that Georgia had a presence and energy to them that was a slight bit intimidating. I agreed that the Bulldogs certainly had an energy, but that it was a very disorganized energy. There were pockets of great play here and there: Ealey and Green were great, Cox made some good throws along with his bad, Blair Walsh was killing it on kickoffs, and the defense made some nice plays on non-crucial downs. The elements for a great game were there.

Unfortunately for UGA, they just couldn't piece them all together in the right way to maximize the talent at hand. I don't know enough about the internals of the program to list out the causes for sure, but usually that's a sign of bad coaching. Whatever the staff there had been doing for success earlier this decade has gone stale. It's a Sunday-through-Friday problem that's plaguing Georgia, and dressing up like Southern Miss for a day wasn't going to solve it.

LSU is looking like LSU again. Finally.

After taking care of Auburn in authoritative fashion last week, LSU flat out blasted Tulane on Saturday. It was 42-0 with a sizable Tiger edge in yardage. There was no drama, little effort was wasted, and it was functionally a scrimmage. It's hard to dial up anything better the week before playing Alabama, who had the weekend off.

Tennessee is rounding into shape.

The box score will tell you that Tennessee won this one deceptively, given that the Gamecocks outgained the Vols despite losing 31-13. Don't believe it though. Tennessee went up 21-0 before South Carolina could find its way to the scoreboard, and UT had a big yardage advantage during that span. Monte Kiffin's defense was stifling when it mattered, and Tennessee cruised to victory. The early season Vol squad that lost to UCLA and never was really in it against Florida is gone. This new one has put together a great three weeks, and it won't be long until UT gets the mantle of "team no one wants to play during bowl season."

The orange and black look was cool on Halloween too, though the white helmets looked out of place.

South Carolina is fading again.

After a great effort to no avail against the Crimson Tide, South Carolina has tossed up two clunkers in a row. No one is impressed by a 14-10 win over Vandy, and the Gamecocks couldn't get their act together until well after it was too late against Tennessee. Stephen Garcia had his third 300 yard game of the season, but it was too little, too late for a team that went fumble-fumble-punt-punt-fumble-punt-punt to begin the game.

South Carolina stands at 6-3, with Arkansas, Florida, and Clemson to go. A 2-1 mark would put them in position to get a ninth win in a bowl and call it one of their best seasons ever. Unfortunately, I can't honestly say I think 0-3 is out of the question. They must stop the bleeding against Arkansas, or else this goes down as just another late season collapse in Columbia.

Ole Miss was a mirage.

I cautioned last week about believing that Ole Miss was back simply because of the easy win over Arkansas. That turned out to be prophetic as the Rebels couldn't handle prosperity against Auburn. They allowed the Tigers to roll up 31 consecutive points after jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Jevan Snead was under 50% for the third time this year, and Dexter McCluster couldn't bail him out.

With the loss, Ole Miss is now out of the SEC West race. We can now say it officially: the Rebels were the weakest of the West's preseason Big Three. They are 2-3 in the league with Tennessee and LSU still to go. Simply going .500 in conference is no longer a guarantee.

Auburn bounced back.

Auburn was looking like it was on its way to a free fall to close the season, but getting this win to officially become bowl eligible after missing the post season last year helps tremendously. Chris Todd didn't have a great day accuracy-wise, but he did go over the 200 yard mark for the first time since AU's last win, and Ben Tate went well above the century mark with 144 yards.

The Tigers are now firmly in third place in the division, and they get a tune up against Furman before facing a reeling Georgia team. They are in position to improve from five to eight wins in the regular season even with an Iron Bowl loss, a nice improvement, and possibly grab a ninth in a bowl. That would be a sure sign of progress in Gene Chizik's first year, and I think any Auburn fan should take that.

Mississippi State's future is bright.

The Bulldogs's personnel isn't all that different than it was last year, but the group that couldn't move the ball on anyone a year ago exploded for 348 rushing yards on Kentucky. Mississippi State put up three third quarter touchdowns on the Cats and made them last through a scoreless fourth to score their first second conference road win under Dan Mullen.

With a win over Arkansas and an upset in the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs would be going bowling. The fact that we can have this discussion at all bodes well for the future in Starkville.

Nothing much has changed in Kentucky.

The Wildcats are now 1-4 in the SEC, but they can scrape their way into bowl season with wins over EKU and Vanderbilt. In that scenario, their win over Auburn would be the only one of any significance. I suppose a win over Georgia could be plausible if those Bulldogs go on a 2008-style late season slide, but if they can't beat MSU at home, I don't give them much hope to win in Sanford Stadium.

Going to a middling bowl every year is an upgrade over being a doormat, but UK has to win these kinds of games in order to say they're moving forward. Maybe next year.

Vandy at least scored some points.

There was nothing surprising about Georgia Tech hammering the Commodores, except maybe that Vandy allowed nearly 600 yards despite having a fairly good defense. What was suprising was Vanderbilt finding a way to put 31 points on the board, far and away their highest total against a Big Six conference opponent all year. That moral victory can't erase the cold, hard fact though: Vandy is now guaranteed yet another losing season and no repeat bowl trip.

Arkansas should apply to move to the MAC for the rest of the year.

Playing Eastern Michigan seemed to work out quite well for them.

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